Your right hand saves me, O God!
Today’s reading from Acts takes us to Philippi where Paul had just exorcised a troublesome spirit from a slave girl. Of course that alarmed and enraged her masters who dragged Paul and Silas into the main square. They were severely beaten, flogged and even chained to a stake in a maximum security prison.
It is remarkable that, despite the harsh treatment and confinement, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, even at midnight.
“A severe earthquake suddenly shook the place, rocking the prison to its foundations. Immediately all the doors flew open and everyone’s chains were pulled loose.” The jailer was alarmed. Believing that the prisoners had escaped, he drew his sword to kill himself. Paul shouted for him to stop because they were still there!
We can only imagine the jailer’s shock when he called for a light and found they were truly still there, but with their chains loosed. He fell at their feet and asked what he must do to be saved. They proclaimed the Good News to him. Believe in the Lord Jesus, repent and be baptized.
“At that late hour of the night he took them in and bathed their wounds; then he and his whole household were baptized. He led them up into his house, spread a table before them, and joyfully celebrated with his whole family his newfound faith in God.”
During their ordeal, Paul and Silas kept their focus on God, not on their suffering. They were indeed relying on the psalmist’s refrain: “Your right hand saves me, O Lord.” They give us a lesson for living each day: the more we are persecuted, the more we should pray.
In John’s gospel reading we hear Jesus telling the disciples to stay firm in their faith. His words seem to be a preview of Paul’s and Silas’ travails in Philippi. “Not only will they expel you from synagogues; a time will come when anyone who puts you to death will claim to be serving God.”
Jesus then promised that, even as they are overcome with grief, it is better for him to return to the Father because, “If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin, about justice, about condemnation.”
In these days of uncertainty and fear of what the future will look like, we need to rely on the promise of Jesus and listen for Holy Spirit wisdom. Like Paul and Silas, our focus must be on God and not on any suffering we are experiencing, however great or small. When fear and trepidation rob us of sleep at midnight, we can pray with Paul of the Cross: May the Passion of Jesus Christ be ever in our hearts!